By Kerry Connelly
It was my friend, Gioia, who pointed it out to me, while I was sitting in the audience watching her perform her play, Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp through MIT’s Male Math Maze. The truth of her words shocked me, and I was reminded once again of the power of language to simultaneously represent and perpetuate oppression.
Her script pulled back the skin of this truth when she said: there’s no word that is equivalent to emasculate in the English language — there is no word for decimating femininity. After all, when something holds such little value, why would we need a word to describe its destruction?
I’m reminded of when a young, bearded hipster spoke at my church. I always love when he speaks — he’s brilliant, and funny, and really loves Jesus. But on this day, to demonstrate a point, he told a story about some billionaire You Tube star who pays scantily clad women to sit and stroke his beard while the world watches. It was obvious that the speaker was going to use this character as an Example of How Not To Be, and I sat, hopeful that there would be a comment on How We Should Not Objectify Women there in mix. Some That’s Not What Jesus Would Want kind of thing.
But no — that’s not what happened. What happened was a cheap joke: And I thought, hey, that must be nice, to have two gorgeous women just sit and stroke my beard all day. The congregation laughed, and I was instantly delegated to the oblivion of subjected object once again.
From the pulpit, I’d just been told that I am an accessory to the greater sex — something whose value is only in how I look in a bathing suit, sitting next to a man, silently stroking his ego.
I have a problem with this.
I looked at the woman sitting next to me. Did she notice? Something about her energy -- the set line of her mouth, the way her hands clenched a bit tighter in her lap — told me she did.
It gets exhausting to have to constantly point this out to people. As a lay person — no Bible degree here — I grapple with the language of scripture when I know it was written through the lens of people who would have considered me property. And before someone says it — let me say loud and clear: Yes, I trust God to be able to leave us the transcript he wanted. Let’s not turn this around into my lack of faith. Let’s keep the focus where the focus is due.
In present day church, there’s not much room for voices like mine, who can question in faith, point out things deemed unimportant to the missional impulse of the day. We’re an inconvenience that associate pastors don’t know quite what to do with. We’re the people who elicit eye rolls around the conference room tables. We’re the people who are thorns in the side of the Godly.
After all, there’s work to be done! Hungry people to feed, homeless to be sheltered, worship sets to be sound checked. And even in the more contemporary churches like mine, where women in leadership is sort of an okay thing, we are still relegated by the language we keep. It’s still an uphill battle to take our spots at that table, and we’re still forced to do a lot more leaning in — almost to the point where we are parallel to the floor — just to get our voices heard.
And then we’re called antagonistic.
The language we use to tell the stories we tell is a potent indicator of where we place our value, of our deepest held beliefs, and one of the most beautiful things about Jesus was the words He used in relation to women. His words were active and inclusive. He looked us in the eye, and He did not withhold of Himself; He did not hide Himself behind a curtain with the rest of the men, leaving us to whisper over on our side. He rebuked us for our own sins and he let our own hearts fall in love with him. He recognized us and brought us into the fold, and although the men who wrote down the story often found it unnecessary to record our names, Jesus, I’m sure, knew each and every one.
I’m encouraged to know that we are beginning to create space for the voices who have been until now relegated as accessories to the bearded norm. After all, we are all just souls that God loves, each of us encapsulated in this weird shell-like thing called a body. Sometimes that body fits dysphorically; sometimes, it’s pulled to souls in the same kind of container. Sometimes it’s a beautifully masculine body, and sometimes, it’s powerfully feminine. But within each and every one of these bodies — visceral, meaty — is just a soul longing for God.
And luckily, there’s a God — who came down in his visceral, meaty body — to chase us down, to wrap his arms around us, and to demonstrate his furious love, for each and every one of us, regardless of the containers in which we’re held.
Kerry Connelly is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur and business coach. She writes a popular blog called Jerseygirl, Jesus (JerseygirlJesus.com) and is the founder of DoveWriters, the Christian Writer's Incubator (DoveWriters.com). She is currently working on two books -- a memoir and a devotional. Kerry is the founder and CEO of Vision to Mission (visiontomission.net), a coaching and consulting company. She is a graduate of Montclair State University and the New York City Leadership Fellows Program. She shares her life with her amazing husband Michael, and two amazing kids. Oh -- and two cats who are pretty bossy.